Judge dismisses drug charges against two Jersey Boys
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | July 13,2013
SPRINGFIELD — A Windsor County criminal court judge has dismissed a slew of drug charges against two of the so-called “Jersey Boys” because the Springfield police improperly arrested the pair after a traffic stop this March.
The decision by Judge Harold Eaton on Thursday to suppress the evidence confiscated in the March 28 stop resulted in the charges being dismissed against Richard Torruellas, 19, and Joseph Atkinson, 18, both of Jersey City, N.J.
The two men were arrested after Springfield Police Sgt. William Daniels improperly pulled over a car near Riverside Middle School containing both Torruellas and Atkinson.
The decision said Daniels wanted to speak to Torruellas because the sergeant suspected he had given him a false name about two weeks earlier.
Police later searched the car driven by a Newport, N.H., woman, and found heroin and cocaine in the car. The woman told police the drugs did not belong to her.
The attorneys for Torruellas and Atkinson, Cabot Teachout and Dan Stevens, had both moved to suppress the evidence seized in the March 28 stop, and Eaton sided with them, saying the police had inadequate reason to stop the car two weeks later for a misdemeanor.
“The court concludes that Sgt. Daniels could not legally make an arrest at the time he chose to conduct the March 28th stop,” Eaton wrote. “Without a reason to make an arrest, he had no legal reason at all to conduct the stop or order Mr. Torruellas out of the vehicle.”
“Constitutional protections are the foundation upon which our system of criminal justice is based and which apply equally to all. It is imperative that those protections be jealously guarded and scrupulously applied, without regard to the outcome in a particular case,” the judge wrote.
The judge said that Daniels was relying on information from Detective Patrick Call about Torruellas’ real identity.
“Sgt. Daniels, therefore, did not know the basis for Detective Call’s information and thus could not rely on his hearsay for probable cause to make an arrest for a completed misdemeanor.”
The court also chided Daniels for not giving the two men their Miranda rights before he began questioning them.
“The court holds that the vehicle stop was inappropriate and Judge Eaton does not believe it was a sufficiently serious misdemeanor to warrant stopping a car,” said Windsor County State’s Attorney Michael Kainen.
Kainen said he would consult with his deputy, David Cahill, who handles most of the drug cases in Windsor County, about filing an appeal of Eaton’s decision.
“We are obviously disappointed in the ruling. We believe these guys are dealing and generally have others dealing for them,” said Kainen. “So we got lucky that they happened to be transporting product at the time of this stop.”
“We all hold our constitutional rights dearly,” said Kainen. “But there is some perversion of the original concept of rights and ordered liberties when the Constitution is used to spring criminals so that they can continue to threaten, intimidate and peddle poison in the community,” he said.
Both Teachout and Stevens declined to discuss the decision, noting the decision could be appealed.
Kainen has five business days to file a notice of appeal.
Eaton ruled that because giving false information to a police officer is only a misdemeanor, Daniels did not have the right to stop the car simply because he recognized Torruellas.
According to police, Torruellas had originally given a false name and a false address to Daniels on March 15. Torruellas gave the name of Juan Rodriguez and said he was from Springfield, but gave an address on Wall Street that did not exist.
When he was stopped on March 28, he gave yet another name and an address in Burlington, which also did not exist when police checked.
In the second car stop, Atkinson was “visibly shaking,” according to the police, and called himself “Joseph Smith,” but couldn’t remember the city where he was born or produce any identification.
Police found keys to a safe, which was in the car, in Atkinson’s pockets, and inside the safe police found $3,600 in cash, two grams of marijuana, two ounces of crack cocaine, five baggies of heroin and 150 rounds of mixed ammunition, as well as a digital scale.
Police found a loaded Ruger pistol in the glove compartment, along with three packages of crack cocaine and a package of heroin, which contained 40 small packages of the drug.